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Ox-Cart Man is a book I grew up with, as did many others in my generation. Not only did it win the Caldecott Medal in 1980, but it was also featured on Reading Rainbow, a PBS show that helped so many of us to get or stay excited about reading. 

It's the story of a year in the life of a farmer in the early 1800s, and describes all the things that he and his family grow, build, weave, and otherwise make, which the ox-cart man then takes to market to sell, one by one. 

But rather than begin at the "beginning" of a year, the story drops us into the almost-end of the cycle, into the cool of an autumn countryside as the man loads up his ox-cart. After he sells everything, buys a few things, and walks the long way back home, we are briefly shown how all of his products came about in the first place, as the next cycle starts -- who made what, and when they did it. I suppose this goes to show that there really isn't a "beginning" -- farm life is an endless circle that works in seasons, and while one thing is ending, something else is beginning.

Once I obtained this book as an adult to read it to my kids, I began to wonder whether it would hold their attention. It just seemed so very practical and task-oriented. Not to mention there's a good deal of repetition in the middle when he's doing all the selling.

While it won't garner the excitement and laughter that many books seem to go for these days, and while it doesn't seem to be trying to be poignant, I still think it communicates something important in its way -- both as a reminder of the American past and a celebration (though subdued) of hard work, self-sufficiency, and family life.

Format: Paperback
Author: Donald Hall
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Pages: 40
Content Advisory: None

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